Memory Lane

The Saturn dealership where I used to work is now a Kia store. There is alot of red trim on that aging building on Gordon Highway, nestled in between failing businesses in a declining part of town. I picture the interior of that structure when I drive by on my way to Sconyers, or the airport, or the flower warehouse, wishing I could pull in and just nostalgically walk around. I spent 60 hours a week for 6 years in that building; I knew every inch of that place. I was involved in so many aspects of the business that the Saturn IT guy had to call me at my new job to get the password to the network computer. A former friend who worked there years after I left said he could still see evidence of my work on bulletin boards in the hallway.

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The Saturn building on a snowy day

 

The primary motivation behind my desire to snoop around is sentimental. Kevin and I worked there together in the late 90’s and early 00’s, during a time in my life when I was in what I call my “bad boy” phase, dating guys who were not compatible with me. Kev and I got along well as co-workers, a relationship of mutual respect. I never thought of him as anything except a kindred workaholic spirit, except for one day,  standing in his office, watching him juggle stressful situations with grace. He reached into his drawer and ran a quick brush through his hair while saying something that made us all laugh. In that moment, a thought occured to me: if I ever do decide to stop fucking around with guys who are all wrong, I need to find myself someone just like Kevin.

A few years later, my shitty romantic habits were beginning to concern me. I was teetering toward 40 with no real sense of why I sabotaged healthy relationships in favor of drama-filled ones. I had been in this place before, and even sought counseling about it, but always disliked the therapists I met. One therapist was fresh out of college and had a look of panic when I shared my feelings with her. Another was a nerdy type who left me feeling judged. Despite these failed attempts, I thought I would give it one last try, calling on a therapist who knew both of my parents, as well as one sister. I figured it would save us some time if I didn’t have to describe my family dynamic with her. Let’s call her Dr. Liz.

When I called her office to set an appointment, the receptionist stated that Dr. Liz was not accepting any new patients. I would not be deterred. “She has to see me!” I exclaimed. “She already knows my whole family and I need her help!” The young woman put me on hold, returning a few minutes later with the good news. I started therapy the following week.

I don’t recall much about the short time I visited Dr. Liz, except her office filled with books and one of those small flat dishes filled with sand and a tiny rake for nervous people who want to move the sand around in a meditative way. I do know that I was happy to finally meet a therapist I liked, who was cool and stylish and non-judgey. I didn’t see her very long, as she would finally determine that there was really nothing wrong with me, including my proclivity to sometimes “live in the past”. She explained that some people just spend more time than others thinking about the past, and that it was perfectly fine. She also told me it was perfectly fine if I never settled down, and not to worry about it. Maybe it will happen, maybe not. The main thing was just to always be honest about my feelings.

It was such an enormous relief to hear someone I respected give me a diagnosis of “you are ok.” I stopped worrying about life so much after that, and terminated my toxic relationship. Years later, when I heard that Kevin was getting a divorce, I felt like it was a sign that I should reach out to him. It took a bit of convincing for him to go out with me, but once we found a slow, comfortable way to get to know each other, the foundation was formed for something healthy and lasting. Early in our courtship, when Kevin still worked at Saturn and neither of us had cable TV at our respective apartments, we would stop by Zaxby’s on Sunday evenings for dinner to-go, and head over to the dealership to drink wine and watch Brett Michaels in VH-1’s Rock of Love.

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The lounge where we watched Rock of Love. Was the TV really that small??

 

 

So yes, thinking of those fun times with Kevin, I do still feel a bit of fondness for the past, and that is why I feel the pull of that old dealership with the red trim on Gordon Highway. I yearn to walk through the halls where I used to spend so much time. I could see the office where I first thought of him as a person instead of just a cool co-worker. I could see the customer lounge where we used to eat chicken fingers and watch reality TV. I could visit the ladies room where I cried over icky boyfriends and know that I never have to feel that way again. My memories during the years when the building still held the Saturn logo set the stage for the life I live now. And though I don’t think I really “live in the past”, I do feel an immense gratefulness for those years, when I grew up a little. It’s because of my time in that building that I was able to find something better for myself than what I had. I not only found someone just like Kevin, I got the real thing. And it is even more amazing than I imagined it would be.

Book Club Quandary

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I’ll go ahead and admit that I was focused on the carrot cake and not fully listening to Brenda. She talks often in our book club meetings, so I thought it was safe to tune out a bit and think instead about people who are into cake. Cake discussions invariably address moistness, sweetness, and cake-frosting ratio, and this particular carrot cake was scoring high on all counts. While there were no worries of me running to the Dutch bakery to buy more of it and blow my diet, I certainly was “in the moment” and savoring this generous slice of carbohydrates while Brenda relayed something of interest to the group.

There were 7 of us at the round table, a normal turnout for the monthly meeting of our 10-year old club. If you’ve ever seen the clever cocktail napkins with a drawing of a book and a bottle of wine, you likely have a sense of the ethos of our gatherings: a wine club that reads books. Most of our time is social; we are as likely to spend a couple of hours talking about vacations or grandkids as we are discussing the month’s book of choice. Nobody leads the discussion, there are no pre-arranged questions to keep us on topic, and the selection of next month’s book is as random as deciding on a title that someone stumbled upon recently in a Facebook post.

This club casualness explains why I was suprised when I tuned back in to the topic at hand at our last meeting. I looked up from my glob of cream cheese frosting and realized that Brenda had ventured into a monologue about how reading a book you might not like initially can be a character-building experience. She proclaimed that the whole point of a book club is to open one’s mind to titles which would not normally draw you in. “We learn from what we read,” she continued, “and unexpected worlds are to be found in a book that may not typcially be appealing.”

I shook off my sugar buzz and started paying closer attention to her speech. Without naming names, she seemed frustrated that someone would come to book club meetings and be dismissive of many of the featured works. I looked around the table and suddenly had the thought: she is talking about me!

It’s no secret in the group that I have little interest in many of the books everyone reads and reviews. I am not a huge fan of fiction, and am a snob about non-fiction, which leaves little else to consider. If I get overly stressed in my life, I find that I barely have the attention span for magazine articles, much less full stories. If I start a book and it doesn’t captivate me with wonderment in the first 3 chapters, I thoughtlessly abandon it right into my box of Goodwill donations. I rarely suggest titles at the meetings, and seldom chime in to book-related conversations. I don’t even participate with bringing food very often. In short, I am a sub-par member of the group, and up until now, it seemed to be ok. People still seemed to enjoy seeing me, periodically asking about something I was reading or doing in my life, and I believed that my lack of participation was a non-issue, at least until it occured to me over carrot cake that I might be a dark cloud in the otherwise jovial proceedings.

Suddenly, my philosophy of “life is short, read what you like” was called into question. Sure, I have read some books I would not have otherwise as a result of the club, and I have tossed in a few comments and suggestions here and there, but truly I am the only one in the club outside of my BFF (who rarely attends) with signficant detachment from the task at hand. I love to read as much as anyone else in the group, but I don’t read as often or as many genres as my club cohorts. I am only motivated to read things that inspire or delight or intrigue me. Anything else feels inauthentic, giving me flashbacks to my college years when I suffered through pages which failed to captivate my mind.

If I absolutely HAD to read the book in order to attend the meeting, or thought I would feel uncomfortable if I didn’t, I would have dropped out years ago, finding it all too obligatory and taxing. From the moment I realized that I was the subject of open criticism (I wanted to proclaim, “I’m right here!” as she was speaking), I’ve been contemplating stepping out of the club completely. If I am not adding value, perhaps I don’t need to be there, despite my affection for all of the members, Brenda included.

In the aftermath of this mental debate, I stumbled upon a book in the bookstore and immediately fell in love. This is the kind of immediate, visceral reaction I crave from a book, causing me to feel that all other books are just blind dates gone bad from which I need to escape through a bathroom window. The author of the book, Will Schwalbe, is astonishly articulate, with a keen intelligence and clean style. The topic of the book spoke to my book club quandry, and drew me in with the author’s charm and relatability. Titled Books for Living, it echoes Brenda’s passionate plea that an unexpected book can be life-changing, but it also addresses the dynamic, personal relationship we all have with the works we read. The opening of Schwalbe’s masterpiece engaged me with a description of a dream about not having anything to read on a plane, an intense fear that surpassed any other possible discomfort of the flight, and proceeds to explain books which have impacted his life in some way. I was indescribably happy to have discovered this literary jewel, and found myself walking along downtown streets reading the delicious pages without concern for anything else in the world.

In Books for Living, Schwalbe encourages us to bring books into our daily conversations, asking strangers and family members about what they like to read instead of always leaning on the mundane topics of work or weather. Books are a significant part of our lives, not just a source of knowledge or entertainment, and I know in my heart that this message is what Brenda was trying to convey while I sat feeling judged and confused. We all seek answers to big questions in our lives, and there is no greater source of comfort and insight than the millions of books which have been written by people with similar conundrums.

There is a notable amount of randomness with which we discover books, and a great deal of personalness to the questions we bring to each one. We’ve all found such gems in a casual stroll past a display table at the bookstore, a conversation with a stranger on a plane, or a book club conversation over carrot cake. The trick is to be open to the process and what works for you. I may be a little quicker to the draw on deciding whether or not a book speaks to me, or jump out the bathroom window if it feels like it’s not my thing, but I am as fervent as the next guy about seeking books which might be significant.

I’m not sure yet where I stand on my book club questions (the song “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes to mind), but I’ll ruminate on it. Perhaps I will be so inspired by Books for Living that I will feel compelled to go so that I can share this treasure with my friends. Perhaps I will step up my game and read more uncomfortable genres. Or maybe I’ll take a hiatus for introspection about why I give up so easily. Either way, I’m sure Mr. Schwalbe will have some reliable advice, as important books often do.

 

 

 

What People Think

One of our customers, I’ll call him Mark, aggressively insisted that we give him free car washes, even after we discontinued the program. When he purchased a new vehicle today, we asked him if he wanted to include a maintenance plan. He declined, stating that he doesn’t do his service with us, he just takes the free washes.

I would be mortified to demand such special privileges, especially if my loyalty to the company was mediocre. Unlike Mark, I have an acute awareness of what other people might think about me. Mark is more worried about getting a deal for himself; I am more concerned with doing the right thing for the relationship. If it occurs to him that we might be expressing our disappointment after he leaves, it certainly doesn’t seem to matter. I, on the other hand, am so sensitive to what people might say when I walk away, that I have a lifetime of unnecessary purchases to show for it.

People always tell you that you shouldn’t care what others think about you, and for certain circumstances, that is absolutely true. You have to be authentic and let the chips fall where they may when you are following your heart. Yet, when I look back on the significant successes of my life, I realize that they were strongly driven by the opposite motivation. The truly cool things about me grew out of a carefully cultivated garden called What People Think. Marketing people might call it building your personal brand, others might label it nurturing your reputation. Brought down to the lowest denominator, you might even call it good ole fashioned giving a shit. Whatever you call it, it is a skill like any other, and it includes knowing when to put it into play.

Twenty years ago, I suffered from many of the common maladies of youth: procrastination, laziness, selfishness, sloppiness. My main priority was my appearance. I spent an obscene amount of time on my hair and makeup, and fished for compliments in the same way a flower leans toward the sun to maximize exposure to light. I wanted to be the nice person who was also attractive. That was about the extent of my garden. What people thought about my looks was such a big deal, that even if I was exhausted or broke, I would find a way to make sure I was polished and shiny when the moment called for it.

Over time, I starting caring about other aspects of my brand, as well. Worrying about what my co-workers would say inspired me to be punctual, work hard and not take the last cupcake. Concern for what the server would think pushed me to be a heavy tipper and not send anything back. Caring about my friends meant showing an interest in their hobbies and listening more than talking. Awareness of the people around me precluded me from overindulging in cocktails. Wanting Kevin to think of me as a good spouse inspired me to be neat and organized around the house.

As I get older, I care much less about appearance-related opinions and much more about ones pertaining to my character. I think about my legacy and the kinds of things I would want to be known for after I am gone. If descriptors such as hardworking, kind and thoughtful are batted around at my funeral, I will be happy with that. Over time, the motivation of caring about the opinions of others has evolved into caring about people in general. Recently I embraced a personal mission statement that simply states -Be a blessing to someone today. I still care what they think about me, but more than that, I care how they feel. Now that is a garden worth nurturing.

Meditative Minimalism

I feel like I need a name for the Angie version of Minimalism, something that conveys my aspirations for all this simplifying activity. Joshua Fields Millstone and Ryan Nicodemus from Minimalist website have an ideal that is impressive, and I know that my ultimate spin on it will look like quite different. I admit that I am envious when I see images of the pristine JFM apartment with the brick walls, a lone piece of art above a simple quality chair. He has an immaculate closet with five identical white shirts hanging ready and 2 white candles on the desk with 5 select books stacked neatly nearby. The Angie version, of course, has to accomodate for my hobbies, passions, spouse and idiocyncracies. As JFM said, they are offering Minimalism up as a recipe for others to consider; their goal is to show people ingredients which might add value to their own life. That is where I am right now, playing with ingredients, seeking my own version of the recipe.

I’m not sure how close I am to the national average of 300,000 items in the home. On the one hand, I already had a habit of keeping a box of items to go to Goodwill near the door at all times, so that the amount of stuff coming in at least matched the amount of stuff leaving. When I look at my tidy decor, I tend to think I had a bit of a minimalist aesthetic already working, but when I look at my closets and garage, I know there is plenty of opportunity for aggressive purging. Instead of counting items in the home, I instead will measure my progress by number of trips to Goodwill and boxes to Lisa for eBay, as well as number of empty shelves and drawers.

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In the past this bare mantle would bother me until I filled it with decor. Now it makes me happy.

 

So far in 2017, I have filled an entire car for Goodwill and have 5 bags ready for my next trip. I have packed 3 boxes of nicer items for Lisa to sell, with a fourth box started. Yesterday I took pictures of old plaques and awards, casually tossing them in the trash or donating the frames from the certificates after posting the photos on my Facebook page. I kept 2 Leadership Augusta keepsakes, one for graduating the program and one for serving as Board Chair. I also kept the Girl Scouts Women of Distinction clock. Those are big deals to me. Today I plan to play a game with Kevin called 1 in 10, where I present him with 10 objects I suspect he wants to keep, and ask him which one I can give away. I’m hopeful for some baby steps but do not expect him to embrace my same level of streamlining.

So far the process has been easy and fun, and serves as part of a larger plan for mine and Kev’s future. I feel an enhanced appreciation for the items which have thus far made the cut and remain in place, and a sense of purpose for my activity. In the past, my constant rearranging of stuff had a little bit of senselessness to it, a busy work or excuse to clean around things. Now I am motivated to reach a place of calmness and an aspiration to focus on more important uses of my energy.

I started reading “Everything That Remains”, which is as awesome as I knew it would be, based on the blog content from the website. It is personal, relatable and inspiring. From it, my biggest take-away so far is the warning to always remember the “Why” behind the purging. It is much like going on a healthy diet with the intention of truly changing one’s life with better choices, so that old ways don’t creep in down the road. There is a need for thoughtfulness in my decisions and consciousness of why I allowed myself to purchase so many superfluous items in the first place.

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love this book!

I’ve read of people of who purged most of their excess material goods within a year and others who have taken a decade to gradually reach their goals. I hope to land somewhere in between. Paying off debt, making better purchase decisions, eating more thoughtfully and living more in the moment are certainly part of the Minimalist mindset which I am excited to embrace, but which will take time to form as habits. For the present time, I am happy to have a plan which helps me to feel less like a hamster stuck on the wheel of crazy work hours and impossible visions for my oversized home. Finding the right balance has helped me to enjoy my job more, where I also have done some reducing, and appreciate the non-material aspects of my life more, like family, friends, reading.

 

While this progress report is helpful, I’m still left without a name. For now, because I’m focused on thoughtful balance, I’ll call it meditative minimalism, so that I am encouraged to slow down and really think through the meaning of physical stuff, including items that I own, as well as those that I feel the urge to purchase. I have no doubt that this lifestyle will translate into less stress and more gratitude, and look forward to sharing more updates in the future.

Minimalist Wannabe

Like most Americans, I tend to shop or eat when I am blue. I realize that I have too many blessings to give in to melancholy-based habits with any regularity, but I confess that I have indulged enough to proclaim the unoriginal and ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions: lose weight and spend less. I would like to add two more resolutions which are extremely compatible with these goals: own less and simplify.

These last two objectives surfaced after watching a Netflix documentary about the Minimalists. Minimalist documentary Seeing this film about Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus at the start of a new year is fortuitous, because they offer such a compelling message about how our addiction to possessions creates more stress than happiness. Thus my newfound and overwhelming need to participate in some major purging. Keep life simple, baby, I say to myself, and appreciate each moment instead of trying to fill your sadness with a swiss cake roll and a new piece of art.

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BT supports my decision, as long as I don’t force her to donate any cat toys

 

I neither want nor expect to reach the level of extreme extrication that Joshua and Ryan accomplished. I read somewhere that Joshua sliced 90% of his material possessions over 8 months. Seeing Joshua’s lone folding chair in an empty living room takes care of most of that temptation. Hearing that he only owns one pair of jeans kills the rest. (Those poor jeans will surely wear out from being washed every night?) Overall, however, the concept resonates with me, because I get a small high from donating superfluous items in my life, and I understand the Feng Shui behind less clutter. So that amazing feeling, augmented with the knowledge gained from the documentary, and I’m a madwoman on a different kind of binge-purge.

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One of my newly stripped closets. Don’t be too impressed, however. There are 6 closets in my house.

 

A couple of things will keep me in check, most of them centered around the fact that I am married to someone who is a keeper in more ways than one. Not only do I want to keep him, he wants to keep his stuff, and he has a lot of it. His reluctance to let go of material possessions is not an issue for our marraige, because we are 2 people in a 2,100 square foot house. The house itself is quite tidy, and as proof, I offer this question posed by Kevin’s home health nurse after his hip-replacement: “So, who’s the neat freak?” As someone who lived single and sloppy for most of her adult life,  this inquiry made me extremely happy.

So Kevin’s stuff is safe from my new proclivity (mostly!) and I have been happily filling bags and boxes to donate. Items which seem too nice to take to Goodwill get shipped to my sister Lisa in Colorado, who has a little Ebay business. I’m on my second box of unwanted goodies for her consideration. She is instructed to keep or sell or donate at her discretion, and she sends me a report of how much she earns from my life’s leftovers, which is fun to read. She keeps the profits (since she does all the work) and I get the joy of knowing that someone in another country is really enjoying my 10 year old silk scarf. Other popular items, many of which ironically are sold to people back here in Augusta, Georgia, include books I know I will not read more than once, and dress up jewelry from last year’s Christmas party.

I often get carried away with whatever my current hobby might be, so there is no telling how far I will travel down the Minimalist road. My last wild hair was a Pinterest-inspired obsession with gift-wrapping, a creative outlet I enjoyed over the holiday. Since I have an entire room filled with gift-wrap supplies, this new hobby is a bit at odds with the minimalist lifestyle. Not sure how that will work out, but I’m not worried about it.

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example of super cute gift wrap supplies I feel compelled to keep

 

If I stay on my current minimizing trajectory the same way I embraced the gift wrap project, Kevin will be sitting in his lonely Lazyboy chair in a spartan room with nothing on the walls. Fear not, my friends, for I assure you that I do possess the ability to ascertain which items have appropriate sentimental value and which ones were just bad purchase decisions. The other saving grace, of course, is my short attention span. I suspect that I will see a new documentary about the joy of baking on Netflix sometime in March, and will be traipsing off to William Sonoma in search of the best pie pans. (I hope not!) In the meantime, I am very happy with my new path of simpler living and am feeling like I can embrace it as a lifestyle change. Wish me luck!

Don’t Send the Bear

I follow a blog about a guy who knits. I subscribed after reading his book, Mad Man Knitting, a mesmerizing tale of a waiter who worked at one of the most successful restaurants in the country, and then lost everything when it closed. The author was homeless for a while, living in deplorable conditions with little to eat and few support systems. Documenting his experience in vivid detail, he writes about how he slowly started scrounging an existence from- of all things- knitting. He knits the most adorable bears, writes about the textures and colors of the yarns, takes a photo and then sells them. In addition to his passion for knitting bears, writing forms his other creative outlet. His prolific output dwarfs the rest of the blogging world, with weekly and sometimes daily posts. He seems to have a lot to say and a lot of time in which to say it.

Mad Man Knitting Blog Link

One might think that the Mad Man Knitter-aka Gregory Patrick-is a similar tale to that of Porkchop Zimmerman from my last blog. They both suffered and found contentment through their art. They both produce an abundance of work, high quality stuff, well-received and inspiring to many. Both seem to still struggle a bit financially in spite of their modest celebrity status. Both personal journeys are fascinating to me. I have pretty much stopped reading the Knitting blog, however. And the reason, surprisingly, is customer service.

While Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman is at home with his mom sending free Happy stickers to anyone who requests them, Mr. Patrick has a long list of unsatisfied customers who sent in money for his adorable bears, only to receive nothing in return. If you read enough of his blogs, far enough back, you will find where he gets overwhelmed by the angry messages from customers who want their money back. The problem is that he has already spent the money and doesn’t have it to send.

It’s a cruel joke, really, because he constantly posts photos of new and adorable bears which he has just created, encouraging you to buy them because he only has beans and rice to eat. You are in love with the bear and empathetic to the artist’s plight. What you do not realize, however, is that you may or may not actually receive the product. Most people assume that even a backlog of orders would eventually be fulfilled. This is not the case. Some of us have ordered a bear, hoping to own this soft, adorable symbol of resilience through adversity, only to grow weary of waiting for its arrival.

I have to tell you that there seems to be a bit of randomness to order fulfillment. If Mr. Patrick knows you, or you happened to order a bear when he had postage money on hand, you receive a well-crafted and huggable bear. The rest of you, well…not so much. Sorry.

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In his defense, I knew the risk when I ordered. I had read blogs about his angry customers before I even sent in my money. I thought that the other customers were just impatient people, that they didn’t fully understand this struggling artist, and I empathized with Mr. Patrick in his plight to learn to manage a small business after only recently getting off of the streets. I assumed that eventually, a bear would arrive, and it would be an inspiring symbol to me, one I would set out to view daily. I would see it and think about the man who lost everything and learned to rebuild again. It would be a reminder to appreciate the little things, like a simple meal of beans and rice. It would serve as a gesture of solidarity with the blogging world. I was resolute to never contact him with inquiries about when to expect the bear, and prided myself that I would be the patient bear-adopter who waited kindly for my future fuzzy friend.

And then time passed. And then more time passed. So much time passed that I began to view myself as a bit of a sucker, and I decided to write off my purchase as a monetary gift to a stranger (he accepts donations in support of his blog). It wasn’t a lot of money and I didn’t need the bear. The sad thing is that I would have paid twice what I sent to receive it, and had plans to order many more. I eventually realized that I didn’t want the bear. The adorable yarn face would now represent disappointment and broken promises. I hoped that the bear would never arrive. And it never did. It’s been over 2 years since the order, and I’ve long since moved from where I lived when I placed it. He couldn’t send it now if he wanted to.

All of this is OK. I mean no ill will to Knitting Guy, and still admire his crafts. Although I have no interest in reading the blog or receiving the bear, I still think there was a message of tenacity in his story. But my inability to acquire a bear makes me appreciate Leonard Zimmerman even more, the artist who found a way to fund his passion and fulfill his promise to his fans: you have been there for me, and I will be there for you.

I think I’ll order some Happy stickers.

A Happy Choice

 

My stress-filled life had been burgeoning into a borderline melancholy when I agreed to attend the documentary “Happy”at the Imperial Theater with my friend Bethlehem. I was unsure of the details of the story but knew that the film was centered around the artist known for his smiling paintings, Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman.

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Like most Augustans, I had seen the Happy Robot signs plastered all around town, and had worn the stickers myself when they were thrust upon me by the ever-delightful and enthusiastic Tricia Hughes. Also like most Augustans, I was fuzzy about the motivation behind Zimmerman’s colorful and upbeat imagery, but curious to hear more about it, and possibly pick up some pointers.

 

As I am fascinated by stories of personal journeys, I was immediately drawn to the film, which recounts the life of the artist from childhood, through losing his great love, to finding redemption through his craft. I enjoyed watching him at work, fixated on painting while wearing headphones, head bouncing to the music. He would zone in close to the canvas, carefully outlining an image of a smiling bear, then suddenly burst into laughter. I wondered how his mind moved from the music to the paint to the thought which entertained him so much, a little envious of someone so completely in the moment and filled with the capacity for pure joy.

The documentary, created by Michael Patrick McKinley, shows the joyful painter’s lifelong passion for his art, which seems simple in content but is actual replete with symbolism and precise technical skill. As Metro Spirit contributor Molly Swift explains, McKinley has been able to convey that “in the midst of all the noise, the HAPPY campaign stands out both due to its origin and its simplicity. The point is to help people choose happiness. That is all.”

Which brings me back to me, and my current obsession with joy in the midst of stress, simplicity in the midst of chaos. Life has become so complex and overwhelming, that I find myself turning to stories like Zimmerman’s, which demonstrate that elation is a flower on the side of the road, obscured by the weeds and concrete artifacts, waiting for us to just notice it and pluck it for our own. At some point in his arduous journey of loss, Zimmerman realizes that he can either dwell on his pain or discover an outlet for expressing his emotions in a constructive way.

I realize that is naive to think that happiness is as easy as picking the flower out of the weeds; it’s one thing to choose happiness and another altogether to feel true joy in the face of life’s pressures. Viscerally, though, I believe we all make it harder than it has to be. Seeing how other people have overcome these pressures to discover their bliss brings us one step closer. McKinley’s movie inspired me to contemplate the healing powers of the creative process and the helpful power of a bright, simple smile.